St. Francis and the Gelato King
It just so happens that Matt’s birthday fell during their visit here. Since it was on a Sunday, we decided to go out to a typical Italian Sunday lunch. Sunday lunches in Italy are special times. Usually restaurants are filled with generations of families, all dressed to the nines, celebrating a birthday, anniversary, christening, or just each other. They are long, drawn out affairs, where food is ordered from every section of the menu and plates are passed so everyone gets a taste of everything.
La Pieve Vecchia
One of our favorite restaurants is in a farmhouse right outside of Monterchi called La Pieve Vecchia. It’s always filled with Italians (a very good sign, in my opinion) and it has the most beautiful patio. We went there with Myra on one of her last nights here. For reasons surpassing our understanding, they have not yet opened their gorgeous terrace for dining. They have tables set up on the side of the building with tents over them and that’s what passes for outdoor dining right now. You can walk over to the terrace and take pictures, but you can’t be served food out there. Why? Despite the strange seating, we had a lovely lunch and toasted Matt on his birthday in Italy.
After lunch we drove up to the Santuario della Verna, the monastery high above Anghiari founded by St. Francis. On the way up, we stopped at Adam’s Rock. The legend is that Michelangelo, who was born in Caprese Michelangelo not far from here, roamed around this area as a child and found inspiration in the dramatic landscape. This particular rock formation, with the mountains near della Verna in the background, bear remarkable similarity to the rock that Adam is draped across on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Looking at this rock, you realize the genius that was at work in this man, even as a child. That his brain registered this landscape as significant and then brought it back to him when he needed it is remarkable. And I think my grandson makes a mighty fine Adam, complete with cowboy boots.
The monastery at Della Verna is one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever been. St. Francis believed that all of nature – plants, animals, elements – were kindred spirits that connect all humans to God. They were as real to him as any person and he referred to them as brother sun, sister moon, etc. This day was rainy – on and off rain which ranged from fine mist to steady downpour. It made it a little dicey walking on the uneven, slippery stones, but it also added an element of mysticism to this already sacred place.
Rain and gray skies soften the edges of the landscape and bring you that much closer to nature. The soft rainwater hitting the lush leaves remind you of the cycle of life and how interdependent we are on each other. And I can imagine St. Francis contemplating the world and his place in it while hearing this same sound. I can also imagine him not cursing the rain as an inconvenience, but celebrating it as the life giving force it is. After all, we see the sun almost every day shining bright on us as we go about our day, but the rain is something that only makes appearances every so often. It is a gift that we should celebrate and a reminder that water is central to all living things. Think about that next time rain clouds threaten to spoil your outdoor plans.
The Gelato King
After all that spirituality, we felt like another of God’s greatest gifts was in order for us – gelato. We decided to head for the gelato king for some of the best gelato around. Gelato Ghignoni is an artisanal gelato maker that’s been around for 35 years. This stuff is the real deal and is rich, creamy and insanely delicious – everything you want in gelato.
An Italian Birthday
Matt’s birthday falling during this visit was a bonus. When you plan a trip like this involving three working adults, you have to get everyone’s schedules to line up. From there you refine and shift to accommodate flight schedules and other technicalities. Matt is a very down-to-earth kind of guy and does not go in for big celebrations, especially for himself. This uniquely Italian day was low-key, but special. An Italian Sunday lunch, a contemplative afternoon spent with St. Francis, and gelato to top it all off. I don’t know about you, but I can think of worst ways to spend my birthday.